Religions in the UAE
Religion is a very important component of UAE society. It is the basis of their culture, their political system and their way of life.
Although Islam is the official religion of the country, the United Arab Emirates have always advocated freedom of religion.
Today, about 80% of the local population is Muslim, and 100% of the locals are. There are about 8% Hindu, 5% Christians, and some Buddhist and Sikh minorities. This diversity reflects the very strong ethnic diversity of the UAE.
Islam in the UAE
Islam is the religion of all UAE Nationals since the Islamic conquest of the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century. The UAE population is mostly Sunni (80% of Muslims), with a large Shiite minority (just under 20% of Muslims).
Islam is the basis of their culture and their society,and it shows in their political system, their way to dress, their culture, their lifestyle ... Similarly, mosques flourish across the emirates, at each street corner, in every compound, from the smallest to the largest. Amongst the most beautiful mosques is the Sheikh Zayed Mosque
in Abu Dhabi
, definitely one of the "must see's" of the UAE
Islam is a monotheistic religion that was revealed to the Prophet Mohammad in the seventh century. The Quran (sometimes spelled Koran, القرآن al-qurʾān
in Arabic) is the holy book of Islam, and it contains the word of Allah (God) revealed to Mohammad (you can also find the spellings "Mouhamad", "Mohamed" and other variants).
This religion is based on five principles or pillars:
- There is only one God, Allah and Mohammad is his prophet (this is called the tawhid)
- Daily prayer, called salat,
- Giving alms and charity to the poor, called zakat,
- Fasting during Ramadan, or Saouma,
- The pilgrimage to Mecca once in his life (for those who can afford it), called the hajj.
Influence of Islam on the daily life of an expatriate in the UAE
The fact that the official religion is Islam has some impact on the daily life of an expatriate in the UAE, whether in Abu Dhabi
, or the Northern Emirates
(and more importantly in the Emirate of Sharjah
). Here are the most important:
- The holy day of Islam being on Friday, the weekends are adapted. Weekend days in the UAE are usually Friday and Saturday, and therefore everybody works on Sunday.
- Meat is entirely halal in the UAE (except pork, which can be found in some dedicated shops), meaning that the animals are killed according to the traditional Muslim rite. However, it does not change anything to the taste of meat (honestly!), which is by the way very good in the UAE.
- The muezzin (one who calls the faithful to prayer) five times a day, singing, relayed by loudspeakers on each minaret, and 7 times during Ramadan. For more information, read our article on the adhan, the song of the muezzin.
- Practices that run counter to the principles of Islam are condemned by the law in the UAE, for more information, read our article on how to behave in the UAE, Travel as a couple and Sex, alcohol, and pork in the UAE.
- The rythm of life and lifestyle change completely during Ramadan. For more information, read our article on Ramadan in the UAE.
Religions other than Islam are allowed in the UAE. The Jewish and Christian religions, of which the texts are also in the Qur'an, are naturally recognized by Muslims.
There are thus at least 33 churches and Christian prayer rooms in the UAE, mostly held by the Filipino community.
There are also some non-Israeli Jews in the UAE, although no synagogue is officially opened in the country. Jews are advised to remain discreet about their religion, because of tensions between Arab countries and Israel. Also note that it is impossible to enter the UAE if your passport contains a visa from Israel.
How to behave regarding religion in the UAE
It is strongly not recommended to criticize religions in the UAE, and especially Islam. In addition to being unpopular, it could take you to court or jail. The whole society is based on religion, it would be unwise to criticize it.
For those who are atheists or agnostics, say if someone asks you that you are Christian (this is what they normally for the European), without expanding on the issue. Beingan atheist or not believing in God is frowned upon in the UAE.